I’ve been interested in p2p file sharing for some time.  I quickly grew tired of things like Kazaa, gnutella, emule and bittorrent file sharing systems for a number of reasons.  The biggest complaint was that just about anytime I wanted to download something, suddenly all of the sources would dry up and disappear, leaving me with an unfinished download.

Then several years ago I discovered Freenet.  It was near the end of the 0.4 version and even though it was still, like a teenager with acne, had a lot of problems, I saw immense potential for it.  Especially when it came to distributed storage.  A distributed storage system has a big advantage in that files are available even if the node that provides it is off line.  Over the years Freenet has grown into a pretty large network that continues to be quietly successful both for file sharing and for anonymity.

Once in a while I hear about new file sharing systems or concepts and I’ll at least do some reading about them to see how they stack up against Freenet.  OFF, the Owner Free File system is the latest one.

It’s based on the idea that since everything that’s uploaded into the OFF network is broken into chunks which are then XORed (exclusive OR) with random blocks of data, that those random blocks can be transferred without the need to hide them or be anonymous.

The idea is that those randomized blocks are not copyrighted material even if they were created by XORing the copyrighted stuff against random blocks.  Also, because random blocks get used as parts of several target files, that is supposed to further muddy the waters so to speak, making it harder to determine what somebody is downloading.

I see a problem with this kind of system.  It’s not anonymous and doesn’t even pretend to be.  It’s relying on an assumption that data that is derived from copyrighted data is not copyrighted.  I personally have trouble getting this one past the “grin test”, let alone believing that it will fly in court.

Just for the heck of it though, I got the OFF System and tried it.  I found it slower than Freenet for both inserting and downloading files and I also found that while it’s searchable like most p2p systems, It was slow in getting even a few dozen file listings in my searches.

My conclusion is that it’s a cool experiment but the first time somebody takes an OFF System user to court over copyrighted material being downloaded it’s going to fall apart.  Even if the data being transferred from note to node doesn’t qualify as copyrighted works or a derivative of copyrighted works, the reconstructed file being downloaded from the network certainly would retain it’s copyright status.  That, combined with the fact that because OFF System doesn’t make any effort to anonymize connections, it is certainly possible to determine who is downloading what and what neighbor nodes any given user is connected to.

I think that Freenet 0.5 is not only WAY more secure but also faster for inserts and downloads than OFF System is ever going to be.  Freenet 0.7 tries to gain more security by having a darknet system and Freenet 0.8 will be even more secure by adding premix routing which will anonymize inter-node connections even more.

Technorati Tags: freenet, brightnet, darknet, distributed storage, p2p, file sharing, freenet 0.5

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